Martí-Franquès COFUND Fellowship Programme


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Health Sciences

Supervisor name and surname:

Michelle Murphy

Supervisor email:

Supervisor short biography

PhD programme:


Title of the research project:

Transgenerational nutrient-gene interactions and health

Description of the research project:

The project will stem from the Reus-Tarragona Birth Cohort (RTBC). Suboptimal foetal development due to pregnancy complications or maternal lifestyle factors can lead to small for gestational age babies at birth. There is accumulating evidence that these babies are at risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetis or cardiovascular diseases as adults. It is hypothesised that the developing foetus adapts, grows and is “programmed” by the intrauterine environment. Exposure to a nutrient-poor environment in utero followed by an abundance of nutrients postnatally may stimulate the development of biological lesions that eventually lead to chronic diseases in adults. The role of one carbon metabolism, of which folic acid is a key ingredient, in DNA synthesis and repair as well as in very early foetal development is well established. Women planning on becoming pregnant are advised to take folic acid supplements to prevent major developmental defects such as neural tube defects in the foetus. Less is known regarding the role of one carbon metabolism in the establishment and function of the materno-placental-foetal unit; a key determinant of foetal development, health and wellbeing and how this affects postnatal development and health. The global aim of the study is to unravel the links between B vitamins, micronutrients and genetic polymorphisms implicated in one carbon metabolism and development in utero and during childhood. The originality of the project lies in 2 key components of the RTBC. Firstly, mothers are recruited during very early pregnancy and a blood sample is collected from them before completing 12 gestational weeks. This enables us to search for novel biomarkers of placentation as well as foetal and future child development. Secondly, we collect biological and lifestyle data from the father. The role of the paternal component in placentation in human studies has largely been overlooked to date. Preliminary data of ours suggests that paternal genes and one carbon metabolic status affect placental function. We now aim to unravel why this may be. The aim of the project is to investigate the association between maternal and paternal one carbon metabolic status and placental vascular function, gene expression in the placenta and foetal growth in mother-father-neonate triads from the Reus-Tarragona Birth Cohort. The project will advance knowledge in prenatal and postnatal elements of very early development through the identification of novel biomarkers in the mother and father of developmental outcomes in the offspring.

This is a research focused opportunity where the candidate will join a team of researchers to conduct their PhD project under the supervision and direction of a Principal Investigator.
The opportunity will allow the candidate to further develop their research skills and abilities, including the processes of publication in peer-reviewed academic journals, the development of funding proposals, and the participation in practical sessaions with undergradutate Medical and Physiotherapy students. The candidate will have the opportunity to join our research team at international conferences and to have a 3 month secondment with one of our international collaborators.

Highly desirable attributes of the ideal candidate:

* Demonstrated previous experience in one or more of the following topics: laboratory
* Hold a Master degree, or equivalent, in: Biostatistics/ Epidemiology/Genetics/Bioinformatics
* Language skills: English, Spanish, Catalan (optional)
* Specific Software skills: R and other statistical packages
* Other skills: Data analysis and reporting, life sciences background
* Personality traits: Responsibility, persistence, generosity, team player, determination, fairness, discipline, openess, honesty, tolerance, excellent organisational and administrative skills including ability to work to deadlines and with a diverse team.
Ethics: This project involves ethical aspects

Workplace Location: Campus Bellissens, Reus

Gross anual salary:

27103.20 €


Full time

Working hours:

37.5 hours a week

Earliest expected start date:

14 February 2022

European union This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 945413